One for the books

Two Tulsa authors feature Oklahoma in their recent works.



Add two literary looks at Tulsa and Oklahoma to your summer reading list: “A Map of Tulsa” by Benjamin Lytal and “Imaginary Oklahoma” compiled by Jeff Martin.

Lytal was in Tulsa this past March to talk about his book. He was here because Martin, BookSmart Tulsa impresario — and TulsaPeople contributing writer and author — arranged his visit. The Tulsa book community is a small world.

The New York Times’ book reviews and other critics have praised “A Map of Tulsa,” Lytal’s first book. He was a book reviewer himself for the New York Sun. 

“A Map” is a stupendous read regardless of whether or not one is familiar with Tulsa. In fact, that it takes place in Tulsa is irrelevant, yet charming, to us natives. Lytal is a native, too, and it is abundantly clear that the author respects his roots.

In these pages, readers encounter Adrienne, a Holly Golightly dream, that the protagonist, Jim, meets in Tulsa and loves during his first summer home from college. (Lytal studied away from home as well at Harvard University.) Readers will adore Adrienne just as much as Jim does. She is bigger than life and full of life. In Tulsa, she is a nonconformist, hell bent to find her way amid local traditional stodginess. Jim finds her refreshing, and through her eyes he sees a different hometown.

As the New York Times reviewer wrote, “Girl, town, youth are literary devices, as Jim (Lytal) makes clear.”

Speaking of literary devices, the second recommended read, “Imaginary Oklahoma,” is crawling with them. Martin asked 46 writers (a nod to Oklahoma as the 46th state) to write their ideas of Oklahoma in flash-fiction mode, i.e., super-short stories accompanied by original illustrations from 46 artists.

The out-of-state writers are accomplished but get caught up in the conceit. The exercise reminds me of a college English course where the professor assigns a haiku after the students have read “The Scarlet Letter.”

To assemble an anthology of fiction written by outsiders is a worthy feat. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the musical “Oklahoma” without ever setting a foot here, yet the play’s theme song is our state’s anthem. For natives to read the views of outsiders is healthy and expanding.

Unfortunately, some of the writers fall deeply into a clichéd rut. They write about driving though Oklahoma (never the destination), tornadoes, Tom Mix, the Trail of Tears and, of course, the musical.

Redeeming of the 46, many are whimsical and provocative. “Find Your Oklahoma” by Rachel Kushner, who lives in Los Angeles and whose novel, “Telex from Cuba,” was a National Book Award finalist, writes one of the longer essays.

Another by Craig Morgan Teicher, “The Whale of Catoosa,” was chosen by This Land, the publisher and local multi-media entity, for its video translation, which you can see on its website. Teicher lives in Brooklyn and teaches at The New School and New York University.

Martin writes in his introduction, “Throughout these works, Oklahoma remains a mystery, an idea that allows the creative mind to go almost anywhere.” Read these essays and start a lively conversation around the backyard grill.

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August 2019

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